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Reading goals elude ETHS

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Evanston Township High School students do not consistently improve or even maintain their reading skills over four years according to a report provided to the School Board Monday night, despite a joint literacy goal adopted by the D65 and D202 school boards to “ensure that all students are proficient readers by the time they reach 12th grade.”

Data from an administration report shows, for example, that 85 percent of students were reading at grade level, or making expected growth in reading level, when they were freshmen in 2014-15, but only 81 percent of the same class met that standard when they were seniors in 2017-18.

The grade equivalent data, based on the STAR Reading Assessment, shows that reading growth varies somewhat from grade to grade.

According to the administration, an average of 84 percent of students assessed were reading at grade level or made expected growth between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 school years.

“Expected growth is a measure provided by STAR, the reading assessment used by the high school, which uses student growth percentiles to determine growth,” said Scott Bramley, associate principal for instruction and literacy. The SGP score compares a student’s growth from one period to another with that of the student’s academic peers nationwide. An SGP of 40-50 represents average growth for a student.

“My takeaway is that students coming in are reading at the same level in four years,” said Board Member Gretchen Livingston. “We seem to be flat on growth. Is it just a question of time? What else will change?”

Bramley noted that 60 percent of one group of students was reading at grade level in the fall, but tested at 84 percent in the spring. “There is some decline in student skills over the summer,” he said. “We’re looking at options for that.”

Board member Jonathan Baum noted that the percentages provided by the administration combine the students who are reading at grade level with students who were reading below grade level and made expected improvements.

“It’s hard to parse out how well we’re doing on expected growth” for students who started out below grade level, he said. “If everybody went up, the gap persisted. If we start from a low enough point we won’t narrow the gap.”

“Overall, reading growth is positive” for students who were not reading at grade level in ninth grade, said Bramley, “but it’s more challenging as kids get older and they need more intensive support.”

The report also indicates that, over the past five years, only 59 percent of all incoming ninth graders were reading at or above grade level based on the STAR assessment.

Between 22 and 38 percent of black students were reading at grade level. For Hispanic students, the percentages ranged from 35 to 39 percent. For whites the range was 80 to 85 percent.

Depending on their reading scores, incoming freshmen may be placed in a Reading Intervention course that provides instruction in discipline-specific reading strategies, vocabulary, writing, study and technology skills.

The courses are small, with 4-8 students who have a similar grade equivalent range, and evaluate specific skill development based on each student’s needs. Students can make their own goals and determine what skills to work on.

Students are placed in those reading courses based on scores from MAP assessments that are given in eighth grade at District 65 schools.

However, an analysis by the ETHS administration shows that MAP scores are about 20 percent higher than STAR assessments because the two assessments use different metrics and analytics.

For example, the MAP assessment showed that 84 percent of incoming ninth graders in the fall of 2018 were reading at the grade equivalent of 8 years, 3 months. The STAR assessment given to that same group shows only 60 percent reading at grade level.

Around 13 percent of incoming 9th graders have been assigned to the intervention classes in the past three years based on MAP scores, which means that additional students who might benefit from reading intervention courses are not enrolled.

“It’s not acceptable to only serve the number of students based on the MAP score, not the STAR score,” said Board Member Mark Metz.

ETHS administrators believe MAP scores are not predictive of student reading performance and argue that the STAR assessment should be used starting in third grade. MAP assessments are used through eighth grade but STAR assessments can be used through twelfth grade.

“STAR informs instruction at the high school,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.

A discussion about reading assessments is on the agenda of a joint meeting of the District 65 and 202 boards committees scheduled for Wednesday morning.

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